Last week marked exactly two years since I graduated from Business School. Time flies! On my way back home from work today, I reflected back a little- on things I have done in the past couple years, my achievements & failures – but more importantly – how my perspectives have matured. Two years ago, I was pretty much an anxious grad armed with a top MBA, raring to hit the marketplace after two years of full time work break, ready yet again to change the world. And then reality hit.
I always thought things like decision making, writing emails, doing great work etc. came naturally to me. Well, Not really. Fast forward 2 years, and I have unlearnt some old stuff and learnt some new things. Here are a few
Everybody wants to be the boss- but nobody wants to make decisions
I once asked my mentor (a C-level exec in a Fortune 500 company ) about decision making.
“When you approved that multi-million dollar deal, how did you know its the right one? What if we lost money ?”
He said : “I made some assumptions, and analyzed some scenarios and all looks good. However, for whatever reason if this deal isn’t profitable , I will have to take the blame.
There is risk associated with decision making and you have to learn to live with it“
In short, You don’t know what you don’t know and that’s okay. The key is to make reasonable assumptions, decide and move forward. Your colleagues will really appreciate your ability to make assumptions and provide directions during times of uncertainty. Its crazy just how many people will avoid making decisions when faced with a risky proposition. Decision making is not everybody’s cup of tea.
If you are a new recruit or a fresh grad entering the marketplace, the ability to decide based on logic can do a world of good to you. Don’t wait for your boss to provide next steps and decide things for you. Instead do your thing , make reasonable assumptions and let him know what your next steps would be. Guess what you just did? You made her work day easier and your boss has one less decision to make. Trust me on this one, decision making doesn’t come easy even to the most seasoned of practitioners.
Instant gratification is the bane of our existence – and of organizations too
We all know it. Most of us are addicted to instantly gratifying experiences. We upload photos on the internet and desperately wait for people to like , comment and talk about it. No matter how pressing the matter at hand may be, a chat notification on our iPhones instantly grabs our attention. We binge watch TV shows because we want to know it all right NOW – and frankly the ecosystem around us is designed such that we crave instant satiety. Same with companies and organizations.
Most companies are short term focused. While they might say big things about innovation being their life-blood, the reality is something else. Employees in such companies are constantly busy creating short term roadmaps to address immediate sales challenges and meet wall street expectations. They keep the hard work for later or never.
The reason why there are very few companies as successful as Google & Amazon is simple. While the former is working to pull short-term levers to make the quarter, Google & Amazon are working on these big hard problems that pretty much have no upside in the short term. They manage investor expectations right from the start and hence encourage long term shareholding patterns.
Amazon was not profitable per wall street metrics for years, but today its one of the most profitable companies on the block and continues to grow. What Amazon did really well was it evaded the instant gratification trap and managed investor expectations really well. They were thinking hard about where the puck will be in the future – as Gretzky once famously said.
Again, same applies to Managers, if faced with a short term assignment/project always question the long term strategic importance of the task. Think it through and have the hard conversations early. Not many people can do it, but it could really set you apart in an organization.
In sum, try not working on an assignment that doesn’t mean anything to the company 5-10 years from now. Life is too short to work on small problems and there are too many people doing that anyway.
Business emails are an optimization problem
Wait, is this even a thing? Turns out it is. Over the past two years, this has been one of the biggest takeaways for me personally. If you cannot write a crisp work email, make sure you’ve that figured out asap.
For me, I was always pretty verbose with emails, sort of a wordsmith looking for the perfect words to convey the message and that it was important . As a grad student, I remember sending “Thank You” emails to hiring managers that were pretty long form. I look at them today and realize just how much unnecessary stuff I wrote.
While I still take my time & write long emails to my friends and family – I quickly realized that work emails are different.Writing a professional email is an optimization problem.You’ve GOT to convey the key messages, call for action & then optimize the text for brevity.
People are busy, have shorter attention spans than ever, and too many distractions to read long form emails. I have tried this out so many times now and the shorter /optimized emails get way faster responses.
So those are some of the things that I have a really different view on today versus two years ago. Also last week a colleague retired after a career spanning 40 years – and his retirement speech had many stories, but the one that stayed with me was
“It feels as if I blinked , and 40 years passed by“.
Sure enough, my two years after business school passed pretty quick. so starting this year, I have decided I will document and share my experiences, observations every year – so I can re-read it when I retire. Its a long term assignment that is well worth my time.
If you have insights or comments that you’d like to share please leave a comment! You can reach out to me directly on twitter